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Breaking down the Barre

You’ll hear a lot of things in a barre class that you mightn’t have heard before – ‘embrace the shake’ is definitely one that you will love to hate! In ‘breaking down the barre’ we take some of the main barre technique cues and concepts and have broken them down to help you get even more out of your time at the barre.

We have all these technique tips over on our Youtube channel as well so make sure to pop over to check those out and as always, grab us before or after class and ask as many questions as you like!


There has been a lot of chatter about the ‘barre tuck’ and whether it’s necessary, whether it’s good for you and whether you should be doing it. At Flex in the City, we use the tuck as a movement and a basic position to set you up with the strongest posture to get the most out of your body and work you in the safest position for your body.

So what is a tuck? You engage your core, roll your hips back, keeping your last rib and the tip of your hip in the same line, dropping your tailbone to the floor and finding neutral alignment, stacking your shoulders over your hips and your ribs over your hips. What about standing at the barre on your highest tip toes? Engaging your core and dropping your tailbone to the floor avoids an arch in your lower back and allows you to find stronger balance and work deeper into your thighs, taking the stress out of your low back.

Think about a forearm plank – in this position, your lower back can arch excessively so by slightly tucking your hips and engaging your core more, you take any unnecessary stress out of the lower back and align your spine in neutral.

We also tuck as an exercise – a small range of motion where we move the hips from neutral to slightly forward to back to neutral. This helps to strengthen the muscle, increases your heart rate during exercise and improves joint mobility. When you focus on ‘where the tuck is coming from’ i.e. using your core muscles and your glutes to roll your hips back instead of just rocking your pelvis back and forth, you create a stronger connection with your core muscles as you work on activating your deeper abdominal muscles which help to stabilise and support your low back and spine.

Your teacher might sometimes correct your ‘overtuck’ – an almost slouched position in your lower back which then often leads to a rounded upper back (think in chair position, especially when you start to get tired). A correct tuck is one which engages your core effectively, supporting your spine while you shake your sticky socks off!


We pulse A LOT so you will hear this every class, often we will say ‘drop down and hold’ or ‘down an inch and hold’. In thigh work, you want to focus on a strong and sharp downward movement where the freeze at the bottom of the movement is the most important bit. This isolates the work in your thighs and builds the signature barre shake and burn that gets you those amazing results! You should make sure not to ‘bounce’ through the movement.

Bend Stretch

When you hear bend stretch, you want to think tiny bend HUGE STRETCH! The ‘bend’ should really be a split second release in the muscle you are working (think thighs, with one leg lifted in the air) and then a super strong contraction in that muscle, as you extend through the leg. So instead of working with a big range of motion in the joint (think big fold in the knee and then straightening the leg) you are going to keep the work deep in the thigh, tiny release as you bend, huge contraction as you strtech. This kind of work is what creates our signature toned, sleek legs and arms, without any extra bulk!

What is an inch?

This is a favourite of mine ! A client once commented that ‘only at Flex in the City does there exist a ‘big inch’ and a ‘small inch’, it is a fairly standard measure in the rest of the world! Barre uses really small, focused movements so it is key to really limit your range – if we cue ‘make that inch even smaller!’ we want you to work with an even smaller range of motion to isolate the work in your arm/thigh/seat and get the maximum results. It can be tempting to go bigger (particularly because the smaller, more controlled movements can be more challenging) but at Flex in the City, SMALLER is better when it comes to moving at the barre!

Isometric contraction

An isometric contraction involves tensing a muscle without changing the length of it – think the tiny pulse at the barre compared to a dynamic movement like a squat. Isometric movements help to isolate specific muscles with little or no joint movement so you can do more reps with smaller movements in a barre class, which fatigue your muscles in a different way. The kind of higher-rep lower-weight exercise you do in class target your ‘slow-twitch’ muscles, which help increase endurance, which also helping to build and maintain muscle. Plus isometric movements can help strengthen muscles without straining tendons or ligaments so there is less risk of injury as well as being suitable for people with existing tendon injuries (especially hamstring issues in runners).

Embrace the shake

This one is definitely a concept as opposed to a cue, but you will most likely hear us say it or something similar in every class. Our barre workouts are designed to take your muscle to fatigue. You know you work hard straight out the gate in every exercise and then we stretch to lengthen the muscle. And if you know this, then you also know that it is hard AF! When you work your thighs at the barre you know what it feels like for 3 minutes to feel like they will never end and for your abs to shake like an earthquake at the end of class. And before barre, you didn’t even know about the ‘smile line in your seat’, never mind that it could shake! The shake is part and parcel of barre. Barre can be great for helping to train your mindset as well as your body – when it gets challenging you will start to shake and you have to be mentally and physically tough to work through the shake, to not give up, to grab the shake and run with it until that ‘last ten’ and you can come out of the exercise. ‘Embracing the shake’ means learning to be consistent, persistent and not afraid of a challenge. And when you do stick it out and surprise even yourself with what you can do, the barre high is incredible and lasts all day! If you are a beginner, the shake is nothing to be afraid of. We will support you in every class and help you to get the most out of your body but we will never make you work where you don’t feel happy to – above all we encourage you to listen to your body. It is ok to take breaks and building up to a class without stopping to take a break is a challenge most barre newbies set themselves.

‘Last best 10’

Another concept and one of my favourites. Your ‘best 10’ can be a pivotal point in your barre class. You are tired, you have embraced the shake but you’re not sure you have any more to give. Then you hear your teacher shout ‘make these last ten your best’ and something happens, something clicks. You roll your shoulders back, engage your core a little more, fix your form and your determined face and YOU. JUST. DO. IT. You don’t give up, you push right to the end and you leave it all at the barre. Your last best ten are you proving to you that you are capable, you do not shy away from a challenge, you can do anything you set your mind to. Oh yeah and your thighs are strong AF. So are your arms, abs and seat. Just sayin’.